“We need to talk” – Those dreaded four words. In this piece for Man Magazine, I offer some insight on what’s really going on off the pitch with the other half when it all kicks off.

Anyone who’s been in a relationship knows, that the odd heated debate is all par of the course. The tough part is knowing how it started and how to manage the argument so that everyone wins.

Ring in the classic phrase “happy wife, happy life”. When my other half heard this, he leapt on the defensive. Thought it meant that I was ‘right all the time’ (not just 80% of the time). After a good few years (and many more broken mugs later) it’s grown on him and become quite an effective strategy for handling the odd teary tantrum. He finally figured out that I mostly flipped out when I had stuff going on with me or that I was tired and needed help with something. Rather than ask him straight out for a hand, I expected him to be able to read my mind and understand my needs all of the time. Totally unrealistic – being in a relationship doesn’t make us mind readers about each other. As relationships grow and change, so does the person we fell in love with. Each other’s needs change and we often forget this so just argue in the same vein we always have expecting a different result – but it ends up the same. After a calm talk with my husband, without an argument, I conveyed that most of the time, I’m tired, I’m frustrated and I just need a little understanding and TLC. So now, to keep his wife happy, he lets me say what I need to say without reacting in defence and then lets me know I am supported. I calm down and no argument ensues. More rational, less emotional. Everyone’s a winner.

Healthy relationships rarely have serious reasons for arguing so often, the trigger is not always the surface reason for the argument (yup, as you always suspected, it’s seldom about the dirty socks next to the bed). When we argue, we use our emotional minds rather than our logical minds, making 90% of the decision-making process emotive. In John Gray’s infamous book Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus he notes that in conflict 90% of the time, the argument has nothing to do with the topic being argued about.

Giving each other some space to feel supported, secure and listened to, is the most important part of the conversation if you both want to start winning.

1. What’s the outcome you want? – Knowing what you’re trying to achieve will help you stay on track in a heated discussion. Use the outcome like a compass, whenever either is veering off course, bring the discussion back to what you’re trying to achieve. Share the desired outcome with your partner, give them the opportunity to listen to you. This begins to diffuse any heightened emotions. We often argue because we don’t feel like we’re being heard, so like a couple of kids, we get loud.

2. Listening vs hearing – When we listen, we actually absorb the information being presented to us. When we hear, we are only taking in some of the information because we are not actively engaged. Open body language allows the other person to feel safe and listened to. Even if you can’t agree on the outcome, just feeling respected will allow the argument to diffuse more easily. Dr Susan Heitler Ph.D says in Psychology Today “Listening, which is one half of the art of conversation, is an act of connection. And between a couple, listening is an act of love.”

3. Be sensitive – If the argument starts to escalate or one person doesn’t feel understood, stop and console the other person rather than continuing to argue. Sometimes, it’s a hug that’s required; a need to feel heard, and safe.

4. Show compassion – Your partner is not evil. They are still the same person you fell in love with, they’re just hurting. When you come from a place of compassion, you allow the other person to be vulnerable, you make them feel safe and respected – sometimes this is all that is needed but hurtful words getting in the way makes this harder to see. The key to creating a win-win situation in an argument is to understand that you are arguing because you both care. Whatever the topic, you both care enough to fight about it, so knowing this, you should be working on a solution rather than a grudge. If you feel like you’re not being heard, take a walk together. Being outside helps to take the pressure off a bit too, walking produces endorphins and studies have shown that it helps to improve memory and attention so you can communicate more clearly.

Ultimately, both partners must remember that everything the other is saying comes from a good place. If your cause for falling out is always to stay together no matter the argument, then raising your self-awareness to handle heated discussion better is the best you can do for a healthy happy relationship.

This article was published in Man Magazine.

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